LAST RETRIEVE

with guest author, Mark Cudney

British Columbia and its lakes Minnie, Stoney and Corbett. The Douglas Lake Ranch and “world class fly fishing.” Where the deer and the free range cattle roam beyond the quintessential ranch gate that greeted us after driving miles of gravel road through a mountainous grassy landscape. We came from Whistler over the pass where there was snow on the peaks the first day of June and a mud slide blocking the road. There were five in our party: Dick Draper and I in one truck; Rob Pomroy, his young retriever Hurley, and John Alexander in another. Both trucks and the boat that Rob was towing were packed full of camping and fly fishing gear for our week long stay at the yurt on Minnie Lake.

This was the last leg of my journey which began driving the dirt road from my rural home in Western New York to a stop over at my son’s home near Buffalo. He and his family then drove me to Toronto, Ontario where I caught a non-stop to Vancouver and a rendezvous with Dick, John and Rob. It was a journey begun, oddly enough, by my vicarious sharing of a poignant moment with two men and a dog. A few degrees of separation with common ties to Western New York figured into my role in the event, as the artist commissioned to recapture that moment in paint. The dog was an aging Labrador Retriever called “Sedge” and Rob was his owner. The event took place while hunting ducks near Vancouver. It was a threesome that morning¾Rob and Sedge and Dick¾waiting in their blind for that special mallard to come within range. Sedge was in the twilight of his days; Rob and Dick’s purpose was to allow him an opportunity, one last time, to retrieve a fallen duck. The moment happened and what resulted so moved Dick that he contacted me the next day and I agreed to begin work on the painting paying homage to Rob and Sedge. (View the painting and read Dick’s full account of the event at www.MarkCudney.com under “Sedge’s Last Retrieve”).

Dick and I had not met but we had been corresponding via email, sharing a mutual interest in creative writing, fly fishing, and the out-of-doors experience in general. Our degrees of separation were founded in Dick’s friendship with my cousin Jim, going back to their days of being roommates at Cornell and in the fact that Dick had grown up near Hamburg, New York not very far from my boyhood home. Jim had sent Dick a gift of a print I had produced along with some of my writing samples and so, our correspondence began.

Once the painting was finished and received by Dick in Whistler, BC, he then arranged for me to join him, Rob and John at Minnie Lake. “We’ll send you your round trip tickets. All you need to do is get to Toronto and WestJet Airlines. Rob and I will see to the rest,” Dick told me in words to that affect. Now, I’m known among my family and friends as one who avoids travel as much as possible, that it takes some prodding to get me “off the hill.” Especially during the prime spring time fly fishing season on my home water. But this time I was easily persuaded. When the words “British Columbia, fly fishing for rainbow trout and camping in a yurt on the Douglas Lake Ranch” were used to convince me, the phrase “no-brainer” came to mind. So I set to the task of making a gear list and happily shopping, during the months beforehand, for those items necessary for my trek to BC.

Journal Entry: Arrived at the ranch around one p.m. Chilly. Intermittent rain. Unloaded gear at the yurt and went fishing. I learned quickly that with these guys, there’s no dawdling when you could be fishing. I was still absorbing the scenery¾the vast stretches of open range surrounding the yurt¾and trying to organize my gear. With haste, we readied the trolling motor powered boats as it began to rain. I joined Rob and Hurley while Dick and John manned one of the ranch’s skiffs. We were hardly underway when, trolling a sinking line, Rob had a fish on. ‘Already?’ I thought. ‘Wow! This looks good!’ It leapt forty feet or so in front of the boat and Hurley, inspired to retrieve, leapt off the bow. He swam toward the splashes while Rob did his best to maneuver the boat and control his line. Thanks to Rob’s angling and boating skills, a meeting of fly line, dog and trout was avoided. Rather than try to heft him over the gunwales, Rob made Hurley swim alongside the boat to shore where he was able to come aboard unassisted. We then set off again and trolled sections of the lake with Hurley on watch in the bow. Thereafter, he maintained his cool and stayed in the boat, although he needed to inspect every fish brought to net. All of them that day caught by Rob, I might add.

J.E.: I thought it odd to troll with a fly rod and found it awkward to cast, when it was necessary, a sink tip line sitting in a boat with a dog. Lots of fish jumping. I was having trouble finding my rhythm and felt clumsy. This was a whole new world of fly fishing, having spent my time wading the streams of New York and Pennsylvania dry fly fishing for brown trout with an attitude. I hadn’t fished, trolling from a boat, since my childhood. Rob was getting hits left and right and netted a few of those rainbow trout while Hurley and I sat in the bow, waiting for one with my name on it. After all, trout were jumping wherever you looked! Undiscouraged¾rather enjoying the catching and releasing by Rob, the leaping trout and just being there in British Columbia¾I remained ready for that first fish. Hurley, on the other hand, eventually became bored with the inaction up front, dismissed me with an air of disdain and went aft to be near Rob and further close encounters with fighting fish.

J.E.: Not off to a great start. Got my line entangled in the prop. Struck too quickly at trout hitting the fly. Unfortunately the former was to become repeated “burr-under-the-saddle” moments for me over the next couple of days, during the time we spent trolling. Rob actually had to disassemble the prop at one point to untangle my line. Now, Rob is an exceptional young man, an exuberant fisherman, a lover of dogs and the outdoors. Easy to know. You couldn’t ask for a better fishing guide and companion. He wanted me to do well. Throughout his experience with me in the boat, he exhibited the patience of a saint. However, there came a time when I believe that he may have wished me overboard and swimming to shore, so that he and Hurley could fish unencumbered. Maybe it was the latest prop incident or my missed strikes. May have been the time I managed to coax a trout close to the boat only to break it off before the net. More than likely it was the time, when using one of his favorite “hot” flies, I mis-played a beautiful rainbow and it broke off under the boat, taking that fly with it. No, it must have been the morning we were fishing Corbett Lake, near Merritt, BC.

It was our second to last day of the trip after we had left the Douglas Lake Ranch to drive to a cabin on Corbett Lake. There was the promise of some dry fly fishing to be had during afternoon hatches, not to mention some hot chironomid fishing. I was looking forward to not trolling. The pair-ups in the boats remained the same. I think Dick was happy to leave me to Rob since he too had experienced one of my prop mishaps the one time we fished together: a windy day on Minnie Lake with whitecaps, when we also lost motor power and had to row back to the yurt.

Rob and I had anchored near shore first thing in the morning and were setting-up our chironomid rigs. It was a nice morning and we were both looking forward to catching some trout. But when I went to cast, the fly I was holding and didn’t let go of became deeply embedded into my index finger. I looked at my finger in disbelief then glanced over at Rob who was involved with his rig and hadn’t noticed what I’d done. I took my hemostat and tried to work the hook free. It wasn’t working. The last thing I wanted to do was to spoil Rob’s day. I tried to think of a way to keep on fishing. I kept on trying to work the hook through the other side of my finger to cut-off the barb and make it easier to extract. Yep, shoulda pinched the barb down beforehand, but it was too late now. No good; most of the hook was buried and I was “wimping-out” at the pain. I thought I might be able to wrap a couple of bandages over the protrusion near the hook eye and worry about it later. In the end, I showed it to Rob and was surprised he kept his cool. My respect for his tolerance for this ugly American grew even stronger. Dick and John were nearby so we motored over to their boat where Dick assessed the situation, offered to try and extract the hook then decided it best not to. Long story short, John offered to drive me to the Merritt Medical Center so that Dick and Rob could continue to fish. We exchanged boats and headed to Merritt.

J.E.: A painless extraction and last chance to catch a trout from Corbett Lake. Redemption on a dry fly. The doctor on duty at the Emergency Room in the small, one story center informed me that what with my inadequate insurance, I was looking at a $900 bill for hospital services. I thought then that a half bottle of scotch and a pliers back at the cabin looked like the way to go. Reading the discouragement evident in my body language he added, “There is another option. If you’re agreeable I can take care of this in a minute out in the parking lot, off the books, but,” and he spoke directly to the nurse receptionist holding my admittance form, “mum’s the word.” I agreed. She ripped up the form. Once outside and standing near his car where it appeared not to be a doctor tending to a patient¾we could have been friends comparing fishing gear, the Doc his forceps and me the lure¾he numbed the finger, yanked the fly out, handed me two bandages and said, “The rest is up to you.” And, no charge! Giddy with gratitude, my finger dripping blood, I about kneeled down and kissed his shoes. He saved the day. John and I were able to get back to the lake and in the boat for the rest of the afternoon.

The next morning, our last before heading back to Whistler, found Rob and I and Hurley together again. I can only surmise that Rob was on a mission to better my luck. Hurley may have been looking forward to my next mishap or he may have gained an air of empathy towards me since he stayed near me in the bow. But up until then, I half expected to be relegated to a lodge boat by myself with a pair of oars during the time we had left. It turned out to be the most exciting few hours of fishing for me since the day on Stoney Lake when we all caught countless rainbows on chironomids, dragonfly nymphs and trolling. This morning on Corbett, we anchored in the shallows at the end of the lake and fished midges below a strike indicator. The water was looking-glass clear; a loon appeared underwater near the boat chasing a trout. There were so many fish rising and jumping in the cove it was dreamlike. Rob assisted me in gauging leader length and fly size and we both caught a bunch during the chironomid hatch. Then a mayfly hatch began and we switched to dry flies. Rob caught two or three before I had re-rigged my rod. I selected an Eastern dry fly pattern I had in my box and tied it on. Time was getting short. We needed to get back soon and hit the road. The rises had let up and Rob was preparing to lift anchor and I began to reel in and call it a day. I was happy with the action we had and the fact that Mr. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) wasn’t with me this day. There was a rise form just then and I thought I’d try one more cast. I managed an accurate presentation and the trout hit the fly. With the hook set, I had another trout on, but this one was more special than the rest, taken on a March Brown dry fly from my own fly box. This was the fishing I was used to: sight casting to rising trout. It jumped and ran and dove and then jumped again near the boat. Twice it took a run below the boat and twice I led it out. It finally relented and came to the net. I believe that Rob was just as happy or even moreso than I was. Of the many trout I did catch there in the lakes of British Columbia, this was the one I’ll remember most vividly.

J.E.: The good outweighed the bad: The weather was uncooperative much of the time with wind, rain and a cold night or two requiring a wood fire. Most of the time, unsheltered Minnie was choppy due to the wind and we opted to fish nearby Stoney Lake. Even so, it was comfortable there in the yurt what with a wooden floor, wood stove, bunk beds and small kitchen area. Even a heated outdoor shower. Following a day of fishing, there were steaks and other food prepared over an outside fire. In the mornings, a hearty breakfast. One evening as a late dinner was being prepared, a storm blew in with wind, rain and hail. When it had passed, the clouds opened and a vivid double rainbow arced across the full extent of the sky. We all paused in what we were doing, awestruck. I thought it apropos to end the day that way: a rainbow above the water with all those rainbows beneath the surface. It was as if all the vivid colorations of the trout inhabiting the lake were drawn up into the very sky.

There were numerous occasions such as that which made the small misfortunes seem insignificant. There were the evenings at the campfire when the coyotes sang; the call of loons; the sight of eagles; the beauty of the rainbow trout and so many to be seen rising and jumping. Hearing of Dick’s and John’s many catches including the special trout of theirs that tail danced on top of the water. There was the unforgettable scenery of the open and rolling range land around the lake with mountains as a backdrop. Simply breathing in the high mountain air. The morning I walked up the draw behind the yurt and saw two mule deer. The friendly people of Merritt and the Lodge at Corbett, the generous Doc, my new friend John Alexander. My more than generous hosts, Dick and Rob, who arranged for me to join them. Finally, that “last retrieve” I made on the trout on a dry fly. It wasn’t as poignant as the retrieve that Rob’s old dog Sedge made on their last hunt together and which proved to be the catalyst for the events that led to my being there in BC, but it was an act that seemed to make the whole of the experience come full circle. Sedge got to do it one more time and so did I.

Left to right: Rob Pomroy, Hurley, Dick Draper, John Alexander, Mark Cudney

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